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Tatar-Bashkir Report: April 2, 2002

2 April 2002
Tatarstan Delegates Join Liberal Russia Movement's Congress
A Tatar Public Center (TPC) leader, Mars Shamsutdinov, and Tatar ethnologist Professor Damir Iskhakov joined a congress of exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky's Liberal Russia movement held in the luxurious Kosmos Hotel in Moscow on 30-31 March, RFE/RL's Kazan Bureau reported. In a speech transmitted live via Internet from London, Berezovsky sharply criticized Russian policies -- including possible plans to unite with Belarus -- and spoke against reducing the status of republics within the Russian Federation if such a union actually takes place. He supported a position attributed to Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, who has reportedly warned that his republic would not agree to lesser status if Belarus were granted more powers than other federation entities.

TPC activist Mars Shamsutdinov was reportedly appointed a Liberal Russia branch leader in Tatarstan and is preparing an inaugural conference of the movement's members to be held in several weeks' time.

Executive Officer Steps Down Amid Corruption Allegations
The daily "Vechernaya Kazan" on 2 April confirmed recent speculation over the departure of Shamil Zarifov, an executive official within Tatarstan's presidential staff. The paper quoted the presidential press service as saying that on 30 March President Shaimiev endorsed Zarifov's application for retirement. Zarifov was a financial department head within Tatarstan's Communist Party Committee until the 1990s and was a republican plenipotentiary representative to the Czech Republic in 1995-97. He reportedly orchestrated the purchase of the Ulrika spa in the resort town of Karlovy Vary, in the Czech Republic, for the needs of presidential staff. After becoming an executive within the presidential office, Zarifov was put in charge of the construction of the Qol Sherif Mosque, reconstruction of the presidential residence, and the Blagoveshenskii Cathedral. Anonymous sources within the presidential staff made accusations of corrupt practices against Zarifov, though no evidence has emerged of wrongdoing.

Falling Alcohol Sales Blamed On Growing Illegal Production
Alcohol drinks and beer sales in Tatarstan dropped by 7.7 percent in the first two months of 2002 compared to the same period in the previous year, the State Statistics Committee announced on 1 April. Some 1,084 billion rubles ($34.97 million) worth of that was sold by Tatarstan retail outlets, representing 9.7 percent of total retail sales, while in 2001 alcohol sales made up 13 percent of retail sales. According to some of the experts recently quoted in Tatarstan's media, the fall in legal alcohol sales can be explained by the growing production of cheap, illegally-made spirits rather than by a change in local drinking habits. Despite its low quality, bootleg alcohol is considered attractive for part of the population unable to keep up with growing spirits prices.

Tatneft Reportedly Offered Chance To Buy Ukranian Oil Refinery
Ukraine plans to sell its share in the Kremenchug oil refinery, which is used by the Ukrainian-Tatar joint venture Ukrtatnafta, a number of Russian information agencies reported on 1 April. The refinery is expected to draw interest from Russia's major oil companies such as Tatneft, Surgutneftegaz, Slavneft and Yukos because it is considered a gateway to the Ukrainian market and a potential stronghold for reaching the oil products markets farther abroad. The Ukrainian government currently owns 61.3 percent of the refinery's shares, while Tatarstan possesses a 28.7 percent stake. The sellers pledged there would be no favoritism for Tatneft during the bidding, adding that the shares are to be sold for about $80 million with a precondition that the buyer cover $20 million in Kremenchug debt.

President's Political Rating Published
"Nezavisimaya gazeta" daily published a list of what it calls Russia's 100 leading politicians on 1 April, prepared by the "Glas Naroda" public opinion research center. The center polled political experts in 13 major cities across the country. According to the paper, there were no serious changes in the list and the majority of personalities preserved their positions. Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev reportedly occupied the 42nd position in the list, while Yukos President Mikhail Khodorkovskii, Russian Federation Council Chairman Sergei Mironov, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, and Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev moved up into the top 20.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi

Rakhimov For Preserving Power-Sharing Treaties Between Moscow, Regions
In an interview published by the daily "Izvestiya" on 30 March, Bashkortostan's President Murtaza Rakhimov said that he believes bilateral power-sharing treaties between Moscow and the regions were inevitable during the "impetuous development of the early 90s." He added that the present policy of the Russian government for "constructive discussion of the problems, wise work on the precise delegation of commissions and fields of activities" with the regions was "absolutely correct;" however, he noted that the federal authorities sometimes are "too suspicious of the interests of the regions." Rakhimov said that he regrets that currently Moscow is trying to establish "a constitution-based federation" that would neglect the power-sharing treaties. He added that Bashkortostan "cannot pretend as if the bilateral treaties don't exist." Regarding his formerly sharp criticism of the efficiency and the necessity of the federal districts system in Russia, the Bashkir president said: "today we have a normal dialogue and mutual understanding with the federal bodies," but it is impossible not to mention that these structures often create extra bureaucratic barriers for fulfilling everyday tasks. The institution of presidential envoys and the districts themselves were artificially created...I still cannot understand how it was possible to separate our republic from the Ural region." Rakhimov denied speculation that he plans to later pass his post on to his son, Ural, noting that Ural is a "self-sufficient person, although being a president's son is often hard for him." Ural, a graduate of Western universities, now heading the republic major oil processing concern "Bashneftekhim."

Moscow Agrees To Assist Bashkortostan's Economic Development Program
Russian Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin approved Bashkortostan's social-economic development program for 2003-2005 as submitted by Bashkir Premier Rafael Baydavletov in Moscow on 29 March. The federal government reportedly agreed to contribute 34 billion rubles ($1.1 billion) to the 172 billion ($5.6 billion) planned for spending by the republic. As a result of the program's approval, the Bashkir economy is expected to grow, thus increasing its tax revenues.

World Bashkir Congress Begins Public Fundraising
The organizational committee for the second World Bashkir Congress made a public statement on 1 April calling on the republic's residents and companies to donate funds to the congress, "which will seek to provide the most convenient conditions for the delegates."

Bashkir Interior Ministry's Activities To Be Thoroughly Inspected
The Russian Interior Ministry will conduct a thorough inspection of the Bashkir police's activities through April 2002, Bashinform reported on 1 April. According to Russian officials in charge of the inspection, they will check on possible violations of citizens' rights and cases of abuse of funds.

UralSib To Provide Loans To Bashkir Farmers
The UralSib Bank of Bashkortostan will serve as a major loan provider to the republic's farmers in 2002, the daily "Respublika Bashkortostan" reported on 2 April. Although the bank is also known for arranging the purchase of Belgian "New Holland" combine harvesters to Bashkortostan, the media so far has failed to report the total sum of the agricultural loans program by the republic's major bank.

Compiled by Iskender Nurmi